Helping Children Cope with Tragedy

In times of crisis, children need thoughtful adult support. Crisis events can range from a death in the family to a tragedy of national proportions. While each situation will require a different plan of action, parents can start by following these tips, provided by Greg Adams, director of the Center for Good Mourning and Palliative Care at Arkansas Children's Hospital.

1. In order to best help children understand a situation, parents need to learn how much information a child already knows about an event or disaster.

2. After determining how children have learned about a tragedy, parents can then decide what details to share with their children and how best they can meet their needs, without overloading them with too much information. More information can be given at a later time, if needed.

3. Children need the truth in clear and age-appropriate terms to give them a sense of security and safety. This does not mean that children need or can understand as many details as adults need and can understand. It is helpful for information to come from adults who children know and trust.

4. Parents can support children by asking about their worries and concerns and watch for changes in their children's behavior and moods.

5. Children feel reassurance through structure and dependability. Continuing daily routines and keeping them in familiar environments is helpful for children. Keeping communication open for children helps them to feel safe.

6. Parents know their children best and know what specific needs must be met for them. What works for one child in dealing with tragedy may vary for another.

7. How much media coverage a child sees and hears needs to be carefully considered by parents as exposure to media reports, especially repeated exposure, may increase a child's anxiety level.

8. Children need adults to be as calm and non-anxious as possible when communicating with them about a tragic event.

9. It is important for parents to be especially thoughtful when attempting to support a child, as what causes stress for adults and for children can differ.

10. If a child has worrisome changes in behavior or moods, seek professional help and guidance.